Upstate New York Poison Center marks milestone

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SYRACUSE – The Upstate New York Poison Center will celebrate 65 years of service this year, marking a milestone which has seen it expand from serving 14 counties in 1957 to 54 counties and fielding nearly 50,000 calls in 2021.

The center, housed at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, assists the public, healthcare providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry and schools, among others, with poison emergencies. The agency strives to provide the most current toxicology management and prevention information to both the general public and healthcare community with the goal of reducing the number, the cost, and the severity of poison exposures, it said in a release marking its 65 years of service.

“What’s changed in terms of poisonings over the years is we have gone from the prevention and treatment of primarily pediatric poisonings to more serious poison case management involving more dangerous exposures,” said Dr. Richard Cantor, medical director from 1991 to 2018.

“Our poison center is truly a fantastic resource for all New Yorkers. We are there 24/7 to address home concerns and hospital concerns,” adds Dr. Michael Hodgman, former medical director from 2018 to 2021. “During my time with the poison center, we added new programs and better ways to communicate with toxicologists across the state. This has enhanced the poison center experience dramatically.” 

Poison center staff provide telephone triage and case management for poison exposures, 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, to 125 hospitals with a population base of 7.3 million people. The clinical and education staff is committed to being the definitive toxicology resource within these communities. The poison center’s entire staff has grown over the years to accommodate the new populations it serves. The center has 21 clinical and medical toxicologists and 21 specialists in poison information. The public education team consists of three full-time educators, a dedicated marketing coordinator, and administrative staff.

“In the 25 years I have worked for the poison center, I have consistently seen the most calls for young children,” said Dr. Christine Stork, clinical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, “Children are curious, and we know without the service we have provided for the past 65 years, many families would take unnecessary trips to a hospital or worse.”

Top 3 poisonings for children 5 and under for the past 10 years:

Personal care products such as hand sanitizer;

Household cleaning products, including bleach; and

Analgesics such as Tylenol and ibuprofen.

The Upstate New Poison Center is constantly evolving to better meet the needs of the communities it serves, the agency announcement said. This year, the poison center plans to honor its past and look to the future with celebrations, education, and new initiatives.

One goal for 2022, as the law has changed in regard to marijuana, is to provide more education around edible THC products and encouraging everyone to treat these products just like a medication.

“Though I’ve only been medical director for seven months, one change I’ve noticed is an increase in unintentional edible THC exposures in young patients,” said Dr. Vince Calleo, medical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center. “This is problematic because children may experience more severe effects from THC than adults. Some of the Poison Center’s initiatives to combat unintentional exposures include public education on the dangers of pediatric THC exposures and encouraging preventative measures, including the use of medication lock boxes as well as keeping substances up and out of sight.”

2021 snapshot:

In 2021, the poison center handled 49,974 cases, the agency said, adding that 68% of calls were managed in a non-healthcare facility. Of the calls for children 5 and under, 90% of these calls were managed at home. Nearly 71% of the poison center’s calls were for an unintentional poisoning.

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